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Joe Boozell | | February 28, 2017

7 of the best athletes in college basketball

  Miles Bridges is a regular on the highlight reels this season.

Every college basketball player is talented in his own way, but only a select few are capable of doing things that make you jump out of your seat.

Whether it’s with a thunderous slam, a chasedown block or pure, blazing speed, certain players are so explosive that they automatically make the game-watching experience better. Blink, and you might miss an epic highlight.

Here are seven of the best athletes in college basketball:

De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky

Fox is elite in every aspect -- except, maybe, his jump shot. He and backcourt mate Malik Monk are smooth, effortless athletes that glide up and down the court; Fox is a one-man fastbreak, as Michigan State well knows:

Fox starts this play here, trailing three Spartan defenders:

And ends with his head above the rim:

John Wall is the gold standard for athletic point guards that have played under John Calipari at Kentucky. Fox matches his explosiveness. A look at the numbers:

Fox vs. Wall
Player Rebound Rate Steal Rate Block Rate
De'Aaron Fox (2016-17) 7.6 2.7 0.6
John Wall (2009-10) 6.6 2.9 1.5

Fox has been battling injuries, but when healthy, he’s a nightmare for opposing coaches.

Robert Williams, Texas A&M

Williams has been a bright spot on a Texas A&M squad that’s struggled, but he’s made a name for himself as a fearsome shot-blocker and a scorer that dunks anything in his zip code. The freshman is averaging 4.1 blocks and 12.5 rebounds per 40 minutes, both signs that he’s in a different athletic league than his competition.

Watch as Williams plays free safety here to break up a pass on a Virginia Tech fastbreak:

Williams is an excellent roll man in ball screens, always a threat to dunk a lob pass from a guard, and shows good hands and finishing ability. Had he been a freshman on last year’s Texas A&M squad, there’s no telling how far the Aggies may have gone.  

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

Bridges can sky like the rest of the players on this list, but what makes him unique is his combination of hops and strength. The Spartan freshman is listed at 230 pounds. The brute force behind his dunks is a sight to behold:

Bridges has done a little bit of everything for a young Michigan State team that's needed what he has to offer. The freshman phenom is averaging 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game. He's also up to 40.8 percent from behind the 3-point arc, surprising to everyone that watched him play before college. Bridges is a tireless worker, which gives hope that his skill level will catch up to his physical prowess one day.

Josh Jackson, Kansas

Jackson has been the driving force behind Kansas’ newfound ability to play small. At just over 200 pounds, the freshman is averaging 7.2 boards per game. He’s able to rebound so well because of his explosiveness, anticipation and motor.

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Jackson is averaging 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, too. When a player is making a dent in both of those categories, you know you’re dealing with a special athlete.

Jackson moves so effortlessly that his athleticism may not overwhelm you until you watch him a few times. Playing next to two veterans in Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham has allowed him to showcase his physical gifts. (In the second dunk clip, Graham spots him on a dart to the rim.) Jackson also has improved as an off-ball cutter. He’ll be crucial for the Jayhawks down the stretch.

Donovan Mitchell, Louisville

This dunk says more than words possibly could:

And the fact that Mitchell gets from this position to flushing the ball with ease is just absurd.

After a promising freshman season, Mitchell has taken a leap as a sophomore. He’s averaging 16.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. These dunks both came against Syracuse and look eerily similar, but were on two different nights.

A reminder: Mitchell is 6-foot-3. Few more exciting guys have played at Louisville under Rick Pitino.

Kobi Simmons, Arizona

When Arizona was decimated by injuries earlier in the season, Simmons' athleticism -- he has a 45-inch vertical leap -- helped manufacture plenty of offense for the Wildcats. A 6-foot-5 guard with a slight build, Simmons is a nightmare in transition. When Arizona finds itself in an up-tempo game, he’s extremely valuable.

Part of what makes Simmons so tough is how quickly he gets in and out of cuts and can change directions. Jab steps, crossovers and ball-screen misdirection become much easier with this kind of athleticism. Watch as Simmons ditches a pick at the last second and unleashes a slick hesitation dribble on Kenny Goins:

Simmons is still raw, but once he blends all of his physical tools together, he’ll be a remarkable player.

Kamar Baldwin, Butler

Baldwin is 6-foot and he ranks second on the Bulldogs in blocked shots (16). Fox, who is three inches taller than Baldwin and is (rightfully) regarded as an elite point guard, has five. While blocks may be the last statistic you’d cite when measuring effective guard play, it’s extremely telling when discussing pure explosiveness.

Baldwin is one of the top perimeter defenders in the country. He’s virtually impossible to screen and he’s averaging 2.7 steals per 40 minutes. Baldwin regularly completes crazy finishes like this one against Xavier:

And this one against Josh Hart and Villanova:

The degree of difficulty for both of these plays is extremely high, yet Baldwin makes them look easy. Butler has had some really good players over the years, but never an athlete like this.  

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